The Vikings defense is molding itself to one of the best units in franchise history.
Minnesota ranks third in yards allowed per game (303.4) and is fourth in points allowed per game (17.4), but Matthew Coller of 1500ESPN.com took a deeper look at even more numbers.
According to a metric created by Pro Football Reference, the 2016 Vikings are seventh best in franchise history in points allowed below league average. All six of the team's best defenses in this stat, which makes it easier to factor in era, came between 1969 and 1975. The Vikings are allowing 5.3 points per game less than the NFL average, up from 4.7 last season, which ranks eighth in the team's history.
Mike Zimmer's defense sits second in the NFL in points allowed, trailing only the Seattle Seahawks, and third in total yards allowed. The Vikings' passing defense has been especially impressive. Opposing quarterbacks have a 75.7 rating, 58.3 percent completion and are averaging 6.2 yards per attempt. They only rank behind the Denver Broncos in all three categories. The Vikings also have the third most sacks in the NFL and third most interceptions.
The Vikings have given up 17 or fewer points in seven of 12 games.
Bradford's been bright in close games
Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford has fared well in his first season in Minnesota, completing 280 of 393 passes (71.2 percent) for 2,662 yards with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Tim Yotter of Viking Update said Bradford's play has been a positive sign on an offense that has sometimes struggled to move the ball.
*Bradford now has the fifth-fastest time to throw, according to Pro Football Focus, but the Vikings are also 22nd in passing average. That means, despite him being rushed and pressured more than almost any other quarterback in the league, he is 10 steps up from the shortest passing average. *
*The only quarterback with a better completion percentage than Bradford (at 71.2) is Drew Brees. Brees is much more willing to take deep shots, but he is averaging only one more yard per pass than Bradford. *
*Bradford has the highest completion percentage in close games (71.5), part of that being because the Vikings are in so many close games. When it's late and close, he's even better at 73.8 percent. In the fourth quarter, he's completing 75.2 of his passes. If you want a quarterback who is cool under pressure, Bradford is a good choice, even if one of his three interceptions was a costly Thanksgiving turnover late. *
Late-game errors hurting Vikings
The Vikings last four losses have come by a combined 17 points, something *Star Tribune *columnist Sid Hartman brought up with Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway.
Hartman wrote that Thursday's two-point loss against Dallas was another example of Minnesota being unable to deliver a clutch play when it needed it most.
With the Vikings having lost six of their past seven games, Greenway said they have to focus on closing out victories. Four of the six losses have been by a touchdown or less. And even though they were facing an elite football team, Greenway said it felt like the Vikings lost the game more than the Cowboys won it.
"Really it's about the last five minutes, we've struggled in situations in the last five minutes to close out games," he said.